In Perspective

By David Chao, PhD, President and CEO

The British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke coined the famous adage: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” At the Stowers Institute, magic happens every day.

Stowers scientists routinely use million-dollar microscopes to distinguish between objects that are separated by distances shorter than the wavelength of light. Others use mass spectrometers to measure the weight of molecules with enough precision to distinguish the presence or absence of a subatomic particle. Still others generate gigabytes of genomic data and apply advanced algorithms to identify and study interesting anomalies and patterns.

A centerpiece of the Institute’s strategy is investing heavily in expensive and wondrous technology and then pairing this technology with teams of experts in its use. A Stowers scientist in need of a magical assist need not spend weeks or months of apprenticeship to become an independent practitioner. Instead, the scientist can draw upon the support of teams of experts who are eager to apply cutting-edge technologies to solve the problem at hand.

The benefits of scientific teamwork at the Institute are very clear. Each year, the authorship of about two-thirds of the Institute’s publications reflects a collaborative effort among principal investigator and core technology laboratories. The productivity of this teamwork is impressive. Since opening its doors fifteen years ago, the Institute has published over 1000 papers, including collaborations with over 150 institutions around the world.

In this edition of the Stowers Report, the cover story explores the Institute’s work in proteomics, a field of rapid technological advancement epitomizing Clarke’s famous adage. Proteomics involves the large-scale study of proteins, including the measurement and detection of their abundance, modification, and interactions. Every day, the Stowers Proteomics Center uses a combination of hand-drawn chromatography columns, million-dollar mass spectrometers, and customized computer clusters to achieve amazing results. The central role of proteins in biology means that almost every research program at the Institute intersects in some way with the work of the Proteomics Center. Hundreds of researchers at the Institute have benefited from collaborations with experts in the Proteomics Center.

The Proteomics Center serves as an excellent example of the teamwork and expertise that make the Institute a special place to work. Jim and Virginia Stowers long ago recognized that collaboration and collegiality would be key ingredients for building a world-class research center. Sprinkling some technological magic on top of the Institute’s special culture has helped to inspire and support many creative new directions for the Institute’s research. I hope you enjoy reading more about proteomics and the magic of advanced technologies in the pages that follow.